These critical Astros positions, performances can keep fortune in Houston's favor

STONE COLD 'STROS

These critical Astros positions, performances can keep fortune in Houston's favor
We're thinking they're back! Composite Getty Image.

Coming off an impressive three-game sweep of the Orioles, the Astros finally look like they've turned a corner as they are only two games under .500 with the lowly Rockies coming to town for a two game set this week.

Houston's offense appears to be firing on all cylinders, and the insertion of Mauricio Dubon and Joey Loperfido in the everyday lineup seems to be paying huge dividends

Dubon has now started in fourteen straight games, and Loperfido has been in the lineup in every game since rejoining the team. Manager Joe Espada has done a nice job of riding the hot hand, and knowing when to give players a day off. Both Dubon and Lopefido should be penciled in the lineup regularly, at least until Kyle Tucker returns from injury.

Jeremy Pena is a perfect example of Espada seeing a player struggling and giving him a day off to help get him back on track. The results speak for themselves, as Pena was crushing baseballs over the weekend instead of swinging at sliders in the dirt.

And let's not forget to credit the pitching. Hunter Brown looks like a dominate top of the rotation starter, Ronel Blanco should be an All-Star, and Framber Valdez may have had his best performance of the season on Sunday.

It will be interesting to see how they navigate the starting rotation with only four healthy starters currently on the team. Justin Verlander reportedly still hasn't resumed baseball activities.

Shawn Dubin could also be an option should they need him to make a start. Hopefully, Luis Garcia will be ready to go in late July because the Astros have several pitchers that will be asked to throw more innings than ever before.

Addition by subtraction

It's hard not to notice how well the team has played with Jose Abreu out of the picture. The club is 7-2 since they parted ways with Abreu, and the squad has a much younger and more athletic feel with Loperfido and Dubon consistently playing.

While we certainly can't blame all the team's struggles on Abreu, they appear to be playing with a different energy now. Look no further than Loperfido's amazing catch in the first inning of the opener against Baltimore. That play ended up setting the tone for the entire series.

What should we expect from the red-hot 'Stros moving forward? Be sure to watch the video above to hear the full conversation!

Catch our weekly Stone Cold ‘Stros podcast. Brandon Strange, Josh Jordan, and Charlie Pallilo discuss varied Astros topics. The first post for the week generally goes up Monday afternoon (second part released Tuesday) via The SportsMap HOU YouTube channel or listen to episodes in their entirety at Apple, Spotify or wherever you get your podcasts.

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RIP, Hoffy. Photo by Trish Badger.

Editor's note: Gow Media founder and chairman David Gow — the company that owns CultureMap, our sister sites SportsMap and InnovationMap, and ESPN 97.5 — shares his memories of Ken Hoffman, who died on Sunday, July 14. Gow hired Hoffman twice — once for 1560 The Game, the company's first radio station where Hoffman co-host a show, and again for CultureMap in 2017, where he continued the column he wrote at both the Houston Post and Houston Chronicle. We join him in mourning the loss of our friend and colleague.

In the annals of Houston history, Ken Hoffman was unique. Full stop.

Since news of his passing, I have been flooded with messages, calls, and heart-felt remembrances – from his fans, work colleagues, and many friends. The words affirm what we all know: he was one-of-a-kind, creative, quick-witted, iconic and quirky.

I thought to myself, if Ken could hear this showering of affection, he likely would have winced and cried out “ENOUGH!” Today Ken’s son, Andrew, noted to me that Ken hated to be in the spotlight, which was ironic since Ken’s writing continually placed him front and center in the narratives of our city.

Ken Hoffman was a multi-dimensional man of many passions. Years ago, when he and I were planning to discuss the potential of his joining CultureMap, I offered some great restaurant options, and Ken insisted we meet for lunch at Fuddruckers. As he savored his favorite burger, he explained to me why Federer had a more complete game than Nadal; why the Beatles stood above all others; why West U Little League was tops in the city — amongst many topics. His potential move from the Chronicle to CultureMap was almost a lesser thing to him.

Finally, the lunch moved to the matter at hand. Ken was a writer, a storyteller — perhaps the best in the city — and he would be bringing his talents to Gow Media. Alleluia! Ken could look at an event, issue or even just a small occurrence and see something that no one else could see. I was thrilled that we would get his distinct style, voice, and perspective.

Notably, his passions rubbed off on others. In short order he had many work colleagues going with him to his latest, favorite fast-food offering. He hosted many colleagues at his house on Lake Conroe. He loved talking baseball with everyone up and down the halls.

For me, he tapped into my latent love for the Beatles. Twice he convinced me to fly — first to New York City and then to Mexico City — to watch Paul McCartney live on the “Get Back” tour. After each song, Ken would share the backstory on how the song came to be. His knowledge and entertaining manner made it fun to love what he loved.

Importantly, his diverse interests and personality enabled him to connect with many. In the building of Gow Media, he established a personal connection with nearly everyone — other writers, on-air sports guys, account execs, and administrative team members. Outside the company, Ken’s network of friends included top city politicians, the owner of one of Houston’s iconic jeweler stores, a top grocery CEO, leading media stars, etc. Ken’s range of relationships was impressive. He had an ability to ask sometimes blunt questions in a way that never seemed to offend — rather his questions and genuine interest nearly always led to a strong relationship.

A colleague at work used to note that Hoffy would often present himself with a sometimes flippant, almost gruff manner. Some of this was due to Ken’s writing, which was regularly filled with sarcasm — delivered in an artful way. Some of it was due to Ken’s humor where he would enjoy good-natured back-and-forth banter with others. No one was safe from his barbs — not even the CEO of the company. I would often try to get ahead of him (“Ken, your profile picture looks like it was taken when you were working at the Houston Post”) — but it was impossible to “out-Hoffy,” Hoffy.

Though he would assuredly resist my writing this, underneath his seemingly carefree façade was a tender heart. He committed himself to meaningful causes, for example, he was a consistent participant in the MS-150 bike ride (and probably the event’s number one recruiter). As recently as the morning he passed away, he was talking with a colleague about how to manage work-life balance.

One family in West U hired him as a writing tutor for their son, but Ken provided so much more. Ken invested extra time with the boy and developed him as an intern at Gow Media. When the boy’s father died suddenly, Ken was faithfully present amidst the family’s grief. Ken’s ongoing commitment over years helped the boy mature into an exceptional young man.

His all-too-soon passing has created a void. In our city, we will miss his voice and perspective. Amongst his many work colleagues and friends, we will miss his wit and talent. And with his family, his wife Erin and son Andrew, we grieve with you.

But I take heart that my friend Ken is likely approaching all the luminaries in heaven asking sometimes blunt questions — maybe even tossing around a few barbs. He has likely already discovered the best cheeseburger in paradise. He is undoubtedly connecting with others, sharing his unique perspectives and passions. And he will assuredly make a mark there, as he has here, with all of us.

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